Lasers could nudge space debris aside

Published in Nature, 15 Mar 2011

Scientists in the United States have devised a new way to avoid collisions among space debris, and possibly even reduce the amount of debris in orbit. The method uses a medium-powered, ground-based laser to nudge the debris off course — but some are concerned that the laser could be used as a weapon.

Debris orbiting Earth is a mounting problem. Two years ago, a satellite owned by the communications provider Iridium, based in McLean, Virginia, smashed into a defunct Russian satellite at ten times the speed of a rifle bullet, putting an end to the ‘big sky’ theory that assumed space was too vast for chance collisions. That incident alone created more than 1,700 pieces of debris, raising the total amount by nearly 20%. […]

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